Is TikTok’s time up?
That’s the question coursing through the halls of Congress, Wall Street, and the public writ large after the social media company’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, waffled for hours before US lawmakers on Thursday.
“TikTok’s fate in the US is on shakier ground than ever following lawmakers’ grueling questioning of Chew,” Insider Intelligence principal analyst Jasmine Enberg said.
The 40-year-old Harvard-educated Chew was never going to get a warm welcome from US lawmakers. That much had been telegraphed ahead of Thursday’s hearing in the clearest possible manner. And Chew was well aware he would likely be greeted with a cold reception, which is why he spent hours and hours preparing over the last week for his first sworn testimony before US lawmakers.
But it was striking how the TikTok chief flailed under aggressive questioning from both Republicans and Democrats, uniting the parties in a way that is rarely ever seen in American politics anymore. “Mr. Chew, welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress,” Republican Rep. Buddy Carter said. Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas echoed, “You have been one of the few members to unite this committee.”
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To be clear, quite a few members of Congress were simply not interested in the facts. They were never going to be moved by anything Chew said. They had their talking points and were going to deploy them during their allotted time as cameras were rolling. They couldn’t care less about technical talk related to routing server traffic through Oracle. It was never going to matter or impact how they behaved.
“Shou came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” a TikTok spokesperson said after the hearing.
That said, Chew needed to provide clear, direct answers to questions posed by lawmakers, particularly those regarding fears of potential Chinese authority over the company. Instead, his murky answers on questions pertaining to the Communist Party of China led to added confusion at times.
Even if everything TikTok claims about firewalling US data from Chinese actors via Oracle’s Texas-based servers is true, it was evident from Thursday’s hearing that lawmakers simply don’t buy it. And that poses a serious problem for the company as it faces mounting calls for it to be outright banned.
As Kara Swisher told me, “While the politicians on both sides were posing for the cameras and should have been scrutinizing US social media sites for years and passing laws to protect US consumers, TikTok is going to get the brunt of it and will now have only two choices, a spin or a ban.”